The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring.
Yesterday’s biggest play
Travis Shaw breaks the tie — +.484 WPA
It’s underselling to say this just “broke the tie”; the reason it appears in this slot is because it not only broke the tie, but broke it wide open, and took the Brewers from a fairly unexceptional situation (47.8 percent chance of winning) to an extremely secure one 96.3 percent chance of winning). Those extra runs turned out to matter, too, as Jedd Gyorko would lead off the bottom of the 10th with a solo shot for the Cardinals. When Shaw hit his home run, Hernán Pérez was on base thanks to a Kolten Wong error, and Eric Thames on base because he had been intentionally walked two batters before Shaw came to the plate. The lesson: don’t commit errors, and don’t give out intentional walks.
Seung Hwan Oh has not found his stride yet in 2017. After an outstanding and surprising 2016, in which he was worth 2.6 fWAR for the Cardinals in nearly 80 innings of relief, he’s really stumbled out of the gate this season. His strikeout rate has plummeted, from 32.9 percent to 19.1 percent, and his home run rate has spiked, from 1.6 percent to 4.8 percent. It might be a little unfair to blame him for this result, though; this was a slider placed right where Oh wanted it. Sometimes, you execute well, and the other guy also executes well, and you just have to shrug.
Who to blame, then? Perhaps whoever called for the down-and-inside slider. On the one hand, Shaw had already whiffed on two pitches in that basic part of the zone:
On the other hand, low-and-inside is Travis Shaw’s happy place:
After coming up empty on two pitches in the zone where almost all of Shaw’s power is generated, he wasn’t about to whiff on a third. I am Tuesday morning quarterbacking, to be sure, and I have the benefit of hindsight that includes the game-winning three-run home run he hit on this pitch, but if I were Yadier Molina (or whoever was calling pitch location), I would have thrown a different pitch. (Baseball teams, this kind of extremely helpful feedback can be yours; call me.)
Yesterday’s best game score
Marco Estrada — 70
Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.
As a fly ball pitcher, Marco Estrada is always going to be somewhat subject to the whims of fate. A 350-foot fly ball leads to a vastly different result than a 360-foot fly ball, so the same basic process can lead to vastly different results. It helps when he’s not adding to his risk by walking anybody, and that’s exactly what he did last night. Estrada’s line is somewhat strange — 7 IP, 5 K, 0 BB, 7 H, 1 R — and not exactly dominant, but more than good enough for the Blue Jays, and good enough to take the top slot for today.
Those seven hits were scattered throughout Estrada’s seven innings, which was one reason why they didn’t generate any runs. They were also all singles, and managing contact is something Estrada should perhaps get some credit for. He’s run an ERA at least half a run lower than his FIP for each of the last three seasons, starting to approach the kind of track record needed for me to think that pitching better than his strikeouts, walks, and home runs alone would predict is a real skill that he has.
I feel like I’m underselling this outing, still. It was good! Estrada struck out five guys, including Greg Bird, above, frozen by a changeup on the outer half, and Didi Gregorius, above, chasing a changeup low and away. The cambio is one of Estrada’s best pitches, and while his fourseam is generally his primary pitch, he threw the changeup most often last night. Last night’s outing was a pretty quintessential Estrada night, displaying him at his contact-suppressing, changeup-twirling, hit-scattering best. Don’t look too closely, but the Jays have won three straight, and are holding their playoff odds steady after their initial swoon.
Yesterday’s biggest home run
Jonathan Villar — 451 feet
Travis Shaw’s shot, pictured above, also went 451 feet, but since we already talked about his, we’ll give Villar some time in the spotlight. This will go down in the record books as a Shaw/Villar tie, however. Go Brewers, apparently.
Plus, Villar could use some confidence boosting, probably. After a quasi-breakout last year, in which he posted the best wRC+ (118) and fWAR (3.0) of his career, he struggled through April of this year, and is currently running a 70 wRC+ (and that includes this home run). Maybe Michael Wacha was thinking something similar, because “down the middle” is not usually where 86mph changeups are supposed to go.
There’s something very aesthetically pleasing about a home run that is hit far enough to make it to a concourse instead of the seats, so that it it is unrestrained in its bounces and gets to spring off the concrete. Instead of rattling around between some seats, this ball rebounds back into the air, appears to hit the ceiling of the bar area, and then continues to jump around, leaving the people trying to claim it to scramble in one direction, then the other, as the ball head-fakes them all. It’s just another perk of a big home run like this one. Good job, Jonathan Villar.
- Matt Schlichting, at Let’s Go Tribe, wrote an article called “Jose Ramirez tagged up and scored on a pop-up to second base yesterday.” That’s exactly what happened, too! I am a sucker for this kind of heads-up play, and along with Ramirez’s eventual excellent slide, the whole thing is impressive and well worth the close examination it gets.
- We’ve written a lot about the Nationals losing Adam Eaton to injury, because it’s a huge blow to a very good team in a competitive division. Adding to that coverage, John Sickels of Minor League Ball has a profile up of Rafael Bautista, Eaton’s replacement on the roster for at least the time being.
Tonight’s best pitching matchup
Justin Verlander (3.69 projected ERA) vs. Corey Kluber (3.43 projected ERA)
A good, old-fashioned, former-Cy Young showdown is scheduled for tonight in Detroit. There are some “best pitching matchups” that I believe in more than others, and this is certainly one of them. Not only are these pitchers both excellent, and closely matched — this isn’t one of those days where we’re forced to recommend that you voluntarily watch Alec Asher pitch, because he happens to be facing Chris Sale — I think they’re also both a blast to watch. Kluber is hyper-efficient and relentless, with more than his share of filthy pitches to attack batters with. Verlander has adapted to his declining velocity by becoming a craftier, subtler pitcher, and it’s allowing him to extend his career as long as possible, which we should all be grateful for.
Cleveland and Detroit are also division rivals, and after last year’s season series ended up as a lopsided drubbing in favor of the Ohio team, the rivalry between the two seems to be growing. As rivalries, when they develop organically and authentically, are objectively Good, this is something to be happy about, and it certainly makes games between the two teams more fun to watch.